Saturday, January 19News That Matters

Indiana lawmakers are considering medical marijuana. One legislator said he tried it.

Members of a legislative interim committee studied medical marijuana legalization Thursday but ultimately couldn’t come to a consensus on how to proceed on the topic.

Even a watered-down proposal to recommend further studying the topic wasn’t approved by enough committee members.

But for the first time, an interim legislative study committee still met to hear testimony and discuss the future of medical marijuana for over four hours Thursday — a momentous moment in a General Assembly that is usually reluctant to make any moves toward medical marijuana legalization.

Proponents of medical marijuana were optimistic after the Indiana House voted this past legislative session to at least study the issue in an interim study committee.

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However, the lack of consensus on even the most basic recommendation illustrates just how far away Indiana is from legalizing the substance, despite public approval. In 2016, nearly three quarters of Hoosiers favored legalizing medical marijuana, according to a WTHR/HPI Indiana Poll.

Jim Lucas: ‘I’m going to make it my mission’

Lawmakers aren’t giving up.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Rep. Jim Lucas, a proponent of the legalization of medical marijuana. “This conversation is going to continue moving forward. I‘m going to make it my mission.”

During testimony, Lucas said he tried as much marijuana as he could in Colorado to see if it was dangerous, and it was the “best night sleep I’ve ever had.”

Lucas, a Republican, filed a bill last legislative session to legalize medical marijuana, and plans to file one again this year.

Arguments for and against medical marijuana

Currently 31 other states have legalized medical marijuana.

Doctors, business advocates, lawmakers, a prosecutor, a representative from the Office of the Attorney General and a medical cannabis company testified Thursday, arguing over whether the benefits of medical marijuana could outweigh the cons. 

Proponents argued medical marijuana has certain economic and health benefits, like easing chronic pain, while opponents worried about negative consequences on businesses and potential harmful impacts on the brain.

Some conservative lawmakers were concerned that even suggesting further study of medical marijuana would be a step toward making the substance legal.

“In my short tenure here, all we’re doing is setting up so we can sell pot,” said Sen. Liz Brown, R-Fort Wayne.

Marijuana will continue to come up in legislation

Indiana legalized cannabidiol oil for use by all Hoosiers last legislative session, as long as it contains limited amounts of THC. While most lawmakers defended the move, saying it was in no way reflective of a desire to legalize marijuana, Brown voted against the legislation.

Regardless, lawmakers argue that Thursday’s study committee was a step toward more discussion.

“This is not the last time that we will be studying the issue,” said John Ruckelshaus, R-Indianapolis. “There will be plenty of legislators and representatives bringing forward legislation this year, I guarantee that.”

Call IndyStar reporter Kaitlin Lange at 317-432-9270. Follow her on Twitter: @kaitlin_lange.

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